Why are Humans Special?

The other day, my boyfriend Bobby and I daydreamed aloud about the magnificence of a world populated by people who deeply valued and respected one another, saddened by the world replete with wars, slander, manipulation, etc. in which we actually live. I suddenly noticed that in all of our months of conversation about the unifying power of humanist thought, we’d failed to address something important.

We had never grounded our humanistic ideology in something rational. In all of our discussion, we’d based our beliefs on an unstated given that humans are special.

So I set about trying to find some sort of satisfactory solution to this problem. Is there a scientific reason why humans should value the continued existence of humankind above their own immediate interests? A reason why humans should imbue themselves and others with a set of rights? A reason why the mere fact of someone being a human entitles them to a kind of basic respect?

I realized that I’d waded into quite the quagmire of convoluted questions. What did I mean when I thought “scientific reason” or “immediate interest” or “rights” or “respect”? I wasn’t sure. So I kept thinking about this conflict between my desire to be able to rationally explain all of my beliefs and my as-of-yet unexplained faith in the notion that human life was, while not sacred in the classical sense, somehow bestowed with some kind of transcendent value as compared to, say, an ocelot or a eucalyptus tree or a paramecium.

Several good rumination sessions finally led me to the following (provisional, of course, as always) conclusion:¬†we are able to understand just how astounding it is that we exist on a cosmic level, and, in its sheer improbability as well as its capacity for meaning and progress, this existence is a privilege so profound that we would be foolish and careless to risk humankind’s ability to have it.

We give ourselves value because the very idea of value itself is an inherently human concept based on a critical consciousness. We understand that while it is possible if not likely that there are other intelligent life forms in the universe, our species is the only one of which we know. And the reality that we have come into being at all, that stardust has made its way from inert chemical compounds to bacteria to sea-sponge to fish to frog to lemur to human (don’t mind the colossal evolutionary jumps), seems so monumentally unlikely that I am constantly in a state of wonder at my own existence, not just personally but as a member of an improbable and stunningly successful species.

For decades now, humankind has possessed the capacity to utterly annihilate itself through nuclear war. But we haven’t. We are lucky that we have not. Our ability to destroy ourselves only increases. More than ever, I think it is of paramount importance for people to cast aside their personal agendas and instead look to the cause of humankind as a whole.


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